KAZAKHSTAN – Wild strikes of the oil and mining workers

"The management kept saying that salaries had been defined in individual work contracts and did nothing. That is why we decided to start the strike," said a Kazakh worker of AMK-Munai. Similarly, workers of scores of other oil fields and mines have laid down their work, demanding a sharp increase in salaries in one of the largest strikes the country has seen in decades.

Since the End of 2020 oil and mine workers in Kazakhstan are striking. While the main demand in the strikes are higher wages, amongst inflation, they also protest the shortenings of wages and bonuses in the name of the “corona-crisis”, and demand the full pay of so-called corona-bonuses. A statement to the heroic struggle of the workers are the successes of the protests. The protests have spread from company to company like a bushfire, with the Old state desperate to prevent a united action by fulfilling the demands and cruel repression. Still, the workers protests are spreading, moslty independently organized. Here are some impressive examples:

In December of 2020, machinists at the transport company KM Tranco stopped work, with 300 of them gathering in front of the management, which by 12 December was forced to give up a thirteenth month’s pay and a 45% increase.

On December 27, the oil workers of the Chinese company CNPC, in the Kyzyl-Orda region, addressed their director, the President of the reactionary Republic and the Federation of Trade Unions that is incorporated into the Old state, to demand a 100% increase in their salary. They too obtained satisfaction.

On January 6, 300 workers laid down their tools and declared a hunger strike at Bonatti S.p.A. (hydrocarbons) Karachaganak oil and gas condensate field in the West Kazakhstan Region, demand for their salaries to be increased by 50 percent, because their current salary (150,000 tenge, about 350 dollars) is not enough to live on.

On January 12, laborers at the Yubileinoye gold mine in the Aktobe Province, which belongs to the locally based AltynEx Company, followed by not turning up for work. They wanted a 50 percent pay rise too. One rock-crushing machine operator said that his 90,000 tenge ($215) had not been adjusted for more than five years.

On January 15, at SiBu, a drilling company in the Caspian coastal city of Aktau, the workers went on strike. They demanded a wage increase to 200,000 tenge (468 dollars), increase in bonuses (against the sharp shortening of their annual bonus in the name of the “corona-crisis”).

On January 25, oilmen at Chinese-owned KMK Munai, the developers of a field in the Aktobe Province, stopped work. They said that at around 130,000 tenge ($130), their income was “even lower than that of many pensioners.

On January 29, 60 oil workers in Aqtobe, northwestern region, of AMK-Munai-company’s Bashenkol field went on strike for a salary increase. Since December 2020 they demanded that their 160$ wage should be doubled. “Technicians in our company make 67,000 tenge ($160). With this money, you cannot support a family, pay for utilities, buy groceries, and that is while prices are rising from day to day,”

On February 1, staff at oil industry transportation services company MunaiSpetsSnab in the town of Janaozen/ Zhanaozen went on strike to demand more work hours and an increase to their hourly salaries.

Around February 8, 200 workers at Sagiz Petroleum, an Aktobe-based oil company owned by China's Sinopec, confronted management to demand higher wages.

Those great strikes are a statement for the advance of the Kazakh workers movement, in continuation with the railroad strikes of January 2020. This can also be seen since the protests are spreading to other sectors: On 4 February in Alma-Ata, the former capital of the country, the emergency medical services staff were on strike against the questioning of their covid bonus.

The protest remind very much on the strike movement in 2011 in Kazakhstan. Back then, it was the longest-runnig industrial workers struggle of Kazakhstan. Oil workers in the south-west went on strike for up to 6 months. They made great successes, were able to drastically increase their wages: for example, average salaries at Ozenmunaigas were between $1,000 and $1,500 a month, which is enormous for Kazakhstan, albeit not to be compared to industrial wages in imperialist countries.

Police repression was present all throughout the protests. Then on December 16th in the town of Janaozen/ Zhanaozen, police used firearms against a sit-in by the workers, killing at least 16 people. It is a great success of the protests today, that the workers did not let themselves be frightened by the repression, and continued on with the strike amidst repression. Even in the town of Janaozen/ Zhanaozen, theworkers went on strike again.

The reaction of the Old state was little gifts to the workers, while on the other hand answering with repression. This becomes clear when learning, that no national strike was observed. On 16 and 17 January, the national strike was called. On 19 January, the strikers had to return to work because of threats of arrest from the prosecutor, the secret service and the police.

While the official unions all work against the strike, only so-called “independent” unions have supported it. Those are subject to repression by the authorities. For example, the independent union in the hydrocarbons sector was dismantled at the beginning of 2021 by the authorities.

Especially, the Specialized Interdistrict Economic Court in Shymkent on February 5 suspended the independent Industrial Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Workers for six months for allegedly failing to register in accordance with Kazakhstan’s restrictive trade union law.

The whole lawsuit is a double-tounged attack against the workers. While focusing on bureaucratic details, it takes the ability from the workers to strike organized. It contends that the union did not “introduce all the necessary changes to its founding documents,” nor “complied with the requirements in Article 13 parts 2 and 3 of the Trade Union Law.” This is bogus.

The law required existing trade unions to change their charters under “Transitional Provisions” in art. 33, but this does not even apply to the ITUFEW

There can be no violation of art. 13, part 3 since affiliation with a trade union that operates nationally, is no longer mandatory in law, this was amended in 2020.

Art. 13, part 2 requires that industrial trade unions “have structural subdivisions and (or) affiliated organizations in … more than half of the number of regions, cities of republican significance, and the capital.” The lawsuit does not provide any (!) proof, that this requirement was not met. In fact, those requirements were fully met.

The trade union law of 2014 has made it very easy for the ruling classes to deny registration to independent trade unions, who are then suspended and criminalized. So the legalization of the “independent” unions is one important justified demand of the workers. Meanwhile, many strikes are organized by new, truly independent organizations of workers. It goes to show, that the claims of the “independent” union leaders, that teach the workers the way of legalism, that preach that the ruling classes and their governments will follow their own laws, are nothing but illusions.

It is no wonder, that imperialist institutions like “human rights watch” make statements like “ The Kazakhstan authorities’ attempt to have an independent trade union’s operations suspended is a violation of workers’ fundamental rights to organize and associate” This only deepens the illusions, that the fundamental rights of the workers may not be violated under another pro-imperialist government. Meanwhile they completely leave out the central demands of the strikes, the rises in salaries.

It is no wonder that the organizations of the UN, mostly loyal to the US-imperialists that right now bring their mercenaries into position in Ukraine, to encircle their foes, the Russian imperialists, who deepen the conflict with China, try to make use of the justified protests of the Kazakh workers. The Kazakh workers and peoples masses have nothing to gain from this imperialist struggle for the “division of the prey” as Lenin said. The HRW’s neglect for the workers’ core demands is fitting, since the living situation in Kazakhstan will not improve under US imperialist rule.

The Kazakh workers will create unions that are tools for a struggle outside of legality. Their successes are proof that they will be able to “learn to struggle in their own way”.

For a drastical increase in the Kazakh workers salaries, sufficient to provide for workers families!

For the immediate legalization of all independent Unions in Kazakhstan!

Stop the deployment of the police against the strikes immediately!

Down with Imperialism!

Long live International Solidarity!